By Ashley Dunkak
As the Detroit Pistons season opener approaches, nervous is not the right word to describe how new head coach Maurice Cheeks is feeling. The old saying involving “butterflies” does not quite fit either.
Maybe the rookies should have those symptoms, Cheeks told Stoney and Bill of 97.1 The Ticket the morning of the team’s first regular season game Wednesday, but Cheeks himself is simply excited.
“We’ve got some good pieces here, and I think they’re committed to trying to turn things around,” Cheeks said. “That’s the most important part. I think the mind is the strongest thing that we can have. Obviously talent helps, but I think if our mind is in the right place, to do the right things, I think we’ve got a chance.”
The PIstons have missed the playoffs the last four seasons, but if the team’s ability to win has changed as much as its roster, Detroit could be in good shape.
The composition of the 2013-2014 team is vastly different than that of the previous year. Jose Calderon, Kim English, Brandon Knight, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell and Khris Middleton are all gone, and Chauncey Billups, Luigi Datome, Josh Harrellson, Brandon Jennings, Tony Mitchell, Peyton Siva and Josh Smith are all new to the team.
Cheeks, of course, is also a rookie to the organization, but he understands Detroit’s history. The Pistons had made the postseason 12 of 14 seasons before the recent four-year skid. Milling around his new residence in Birmingham, Cheeks hears about those teams all the time.
“They really always talk about the Pistons of the past, and I understand that because me being from Philly, people always come up to me and talk about the Sixers of the past, and I always try and tell them that we are just trying to start something new and get where the Pistons were because those were great teams with great players and a great coach, and now we’re trying to make our own way and get to the place where they were,” Cheeks said.
While the Pistons cannot guarantee a playoff run, they have tapped into the tradition of those old teams by bringing back two players who were on the roster for Detroit’s 2004 championship. Billups is back on the floor, and Rasheed Wallace is back as a coach.
Known for his technical fouls – he got more than anyone in the history of the NBA – Wallace seemed an unconventional choice to fans, but Cheeks said his tutelage of the team’s young big men has been great.
“People look at Sheed as this guy that just went out and played and had this temper, but he’s a guy who understood the game as well as anybody,” Cheeks said. He’s a guy that, if you ask any of his teammates, was the best teammate out there. The knowledge that he has for the game transfers over.”
Billups, 37, is not the player he used to be, but his extensive knowledge of how to run a team from the point guard spot makes him valuable on the floor and to teach other players.
“He’s been like the perfect veteran for us,” Cheeks said. “He can still play, he can tutor our young players, give them a lot of knowledge about a lot of things that they don’t know and will pick up along the way.”
With all the roster changes this off-season, there is lots of optimism going around about the Pistons. Players have spoken about playoffs as a completely attainable goal, and fans and media seem to be buying in. Cheeks hopes the team can live up to the expectations.
“I hope all those things come true,” Cheeks said. “We’ve been working really, really hard to try and make those things come true.